TOKYO—Races often end in a blur for Canada’s Maggie MacNeil, who wears glasses outside the pool but doesn’t use contacts or prescription goggles when swimming.
That means it takes a second or two for the picture to become clear after she’s touched the wall as she tries to focus in on the results board.
Did I win?
That killer suspense was there at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday. MacNeil made the turn nearly last—in seventh place—in the 100-meter butterfly final, then put in a huge second lap.
“I was just trying to squint and see where I came,” she said. “I heard my name getting called so I knew I must have done something good.”
On realizing she’d won her first Olympic gold, MacNeil mouthed “oh my God” and got a big hug from defending champion Sarah Sjoestroem.
It was a frenetic 24-hours for MacNeil. The 21-year-old from London, Ontario was also part of the Canadian team that won silver in the 4×100 freestyle relay on Sunday.
Her stash is quickly building and the two medals from Tokyo go with three from the world championships in 2019—also gold in the 100 fly and two relay bronzes.
“It’s crazy,” she said at the Tokyo Aquatics Center. “I’m still trying to process yesterday and what happened with the relay just because that was so incredible. And I still don’t think I’ve realized the whole world champion thing.
“So this’ll take a while to get used to for sure.”
MacNeil also has to work out a place to keep her medals. Her world champs gold is currently sitting on her bookshelf.
“I don’t really have a spot for it,” she said.
The bigger picture is that Canadian swimming is coming back after going through a lean 30 years at the Olympics that finally came to an end at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 when Penny Oleksiak won four medals, including gold in the 100 freestyle.
Oleksiak also was on the Canadian 4×100 team with MacNeil in Tokyo on Sunday, and is also just 21.
And the latest Canadian sensation is 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who swam in the final of the 400 freestyle on Monday alongside superstars Katie Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus.
MacNeil was singing the praises of McIntosh in interviews at the pool—the two are roommates in Tokyo—when she realized the teenager’s race was going on right then. MacNeil asked if she could put the interviews on hold to watch and provided her own nervous running commentary.
McIntosh at one point was third behind Ledecky and Titmus and in a close fight for bronze with China’s Li Bingjie.
“Is she in third?” MacNeil said, gripped as she watched. “Yeah! Come on Sums. She has to hold on … Oh my God, I can’t watch this. Tell me when it’s over.”
McIntosh just missed out on a medal but finished fourth in her first Olympic final, an incredible swim.
“Not bad for a 14-year-old,” MacNeil said. “I’m serious.”
MacNeil then turned back to the reporters and apologized for the diversion: “Anyway, what were we taking about? Sorry,” she said.
And she regained her focus for the second time in the day.
By Gerald Imray